Opposition scouting report: How can Morocco beat Iran?

Ayoub El Kaabi and Amine Harit celebrate against Slovakia. SALVATORE DI NOLFI/EPA-EFE/REX/Shutterstock.

With Spain and Portugal completing a nightmarish Group B for Morocco, the Atlas Lions can ill afford a slip up when they face Iran in Saint Petersburg in their World Cup opener.

Ex-Zambia assistant coach and Queens Park Rangers opposition analyst Irfan Kawri is confident that the North Africans can get the job done against Team Melli, and here's how they should go about it...

How can Morocco neutralise Iran's strengths?

In stark contrast to their toothless performance in Brazil four years ago, Iran actually have some decent firepower up front, and Morocco mustn't be complacent heading into this fixture.

Sardar Azmoun, Alireza Jahanbakhsh, Karim Ansarifard and Saman Ghoddos are all in strong form heading into the tournament, with Azmoun, in particular, a key threat.

He's been dubbed the 'Iranian Messi' in the past, and he's the player who I'd advise Herve Renard to keep particular tabs on.

The 23-year-old is particularly dangerous in the air, and it might be wise for the Atlas Lions to revert to the back three that's served them well in the past.

Medhi Benatia or Romain Saiss must mark their man tightly and ensure that he doesn't get a clear opportunity to trouble Munir aerially.

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Jahanbakhsh is likely to operate on the right flank for Iran, and will be the primary source of support for Azmoun.

He's enjoyed a fine campaign in the Eredivisie for AZ Alkmaar, and his presence ought to be an area of concern for Renard, with left-back not a position of immense defensive strength for the Atlas Lions.

Hamza Mendyl is the natural in this role, but he's more competent going forward than defensively, so perhaps the Frenchman would do well to start with Achraf Hakimi on the left in order to ensure that Jahanbakhsh is well negotiated.

He's also more comfortable with the ball at his feet, and again, perhaps a back three - with Manuel Da Costa restored to the defensive unit - would give Morocco more cover and place less pressure on the left-back.

If Morocco are to lose this one, you suspect the Jahanbakhsh-Azmoun connection will be their undoing.

How can Morocco exploit Iran's weaknesses?

Iran were rock-solid defensive during qualification, but that imperiousness appears to be fading as we approach the finals.

This is something that should play into Morocco's hands as they look to start their campaign with a win.

The Morteza Pouraliganji-Jalal Hosseini partnership had previously been a key strength of this side, but Carlos Queiroz's decision to drop the latter has changed the complexion of the defence.

Whoever partners Pouraliganji, Team Melli will have an inexperienced central defensive unit who are unfamiliar with playing alongside each other, while the loss of Hosseini also denies the team a natural leader.

It's a reason for concern, and Morocco should attempt to unveil and expose any uncertainty in that backline by starting strongly, looking to express themselves, and feeding the frontmen.

It will be intriguing to see whether Renard opts for Khalid Boutaib or Ayoub El Kaabi to lead the line, but I'd opt for the latter.

He's more mobile and, crucially, is in form, having netted twice in the pre-tournament friendlies.

Critically, Iran will also be without key midfielder Saeid Ezatolahi for their opener as the youngster has been banned after being sent off in a qualifier against South Korea.

He's a lynchpin for this side, and without his aerial threat, the defence could be exposed.

Morocco must establish a quick tempo from the off and look to exploit Iran down the middle.

Conclusion

Morocco's opener isn't as comfortable as some have suggested, with the likes of Azmoun and Jahanbakhsh giving the Asian side the kind of threat that the North Africans must be wary of.

However, they demonstrated the defensive resiliency in qualifying to give themselves confidence that they can keep their foe at bay.

At the other end, the absence of veteran Hosseini - Iran's most experienced player - could leave a gaping hole - and uncertainty - for Renard's side to exploit.

None of the African sides are under as much pressure to start their campaign with a win, and Morocco should have enough to get over the line in Saint Petersburg.